Furniture store’s zoning denial was supported by 28 signatures

The own­er of a new vin­tage shop near the Mid-Cen­tury Fur­niture Ware­house, which was re­cently denied a zon­ing vari­ance, says a pe­ti­tion against the store was signed by 28 res­id­ents, and that she per­son­ally sup­por­ted the Ware­house.

Con­cerned that some people in the com­munity be­lieve she and her par­ents have run the com­pet­i­tion out of town, Cath­er­ine Jen­nings said she al­ways sup­por­ted Fishtown’s Mid-Cen­tury Fur­niture Ware­house, and her par­ents wer­en’t the only neigh­bors who op­posed a vari­ance the store needed to stay in busi­ness.

“I voted for the vari­ance. I voted for the fur­niture store,” Cath­er­ine Jen­nings, own­er of vin­tage fur­niture store Keys to the At­tic, 314 E. Gir­ard Ave., told Star. Mid-Cen­tury is loc­ated a block away from Keys to the At­tic and is owned by Bri­an Lawlor.

“What some people are say­ing, it sounds like I put this guy [Lawlor] out of busi­ness,” Jen­nings said of com­ments pos­ted on the Web pages and Phil­ade­lin­ “But I want their busi­ness there. People are more likely to come to clusters of stores.”

Star re­por­ted Oct. 10 that Lawlor and his busi­ness part­ner, Heidi Duffey, have de­cided to va­cate their cur­rent loc­a­tion after un­ex­pec­ted neigh­bor­hood op­pos­i­tion at a Zon­ing Board of Ad­just­ment meet­ing led to the busi­ness be­ing re­fused a zon­ing vari­ance.

They said they feel there were in­suf­fi­cient grounds for re­fus­ing their vari­ance, but at this point, a leg­al battle to over­rule the zon­ing board’s de­cision would be pro­hib­it­ively ex­pens­ive.

Mid-Cen­tury Fur­niture Ware­house has been op­er­at­ing for about four years on the 1200 block of East Columbia Ave. in­side a 200-year-old barn that is zoned res­id­en­tial. After its own­ers star­ted hold­ing bi­weekly sales out of the ware­house this sum­mer, they ap­plied for a busi­ness zon­ing vari­ance.

The Fishtown Neigh­bors As­so­ci­ation sup­por­ted the vari­ance ap­plic­a­tion, 10-1, dur­ing a Sept. 18 pub­lic meet­ing, and the as­so­ci­ation in­formed the city by let­ter. Jen­nings said she was among those who sup­por­ted of the vari­ance.

However, Jen­nings’ par­ents, Joseph and Le­onor Jen­nings, who live on East Columbia Av­en­ue, were among those who pro­tested the vari­ance at the fi­nal Phil­adelphia Zon­ing Board of Ad­just­ment hear­ing on Sept. 28. The vari­ance was denied. The ZBA de­clined to com­ment on its de­cision.

Heidi Duffey told Star she felt the two neigh­bors am­bushed her and Lawlor at the hear­ing. But more than 20 people who live on the street and nearby, in­clud­ing Jen­nings’ par­ents, had signed a pe­ti­tion against grant­ing the store a vari­ance. Jen­nings said her par­ents told her about the pe­ti­tion, which Jen­nings said they did not ini­ti­ate.

Jen­nings said she does not know who filed the pe­ti­tion, which is signed, “The Loc­al Res­id­ence [sic] of the 1200 Block E Columbia Ave”. It reads, in part:

“The Own­er of this gar­age has been selling or leas­ing to sell use [sic] Fur­niture and Movie Props out of this gar­age for the past two years along with re­pair­ing re­fin­ish­ing, paint­ing glu­ing and sand­ing the fur­niture for re­sale. Most of the selling & re­pair work is done out­side on the side­walk. This is an eye­sore to our Beau­ti­ful Block as well as a haz­ard from the smell & fumes of the sand­ing & chem­ic­al or­dors [sic].”

It con­tin­ues, “Park­ing has also been an is­sue with cus­tom­er’s [sic] load­ing & un­load­ing fur­niture in­to vans and cars without prop­er load­ing area caus­ing un­safe traffic is­sues. The own­er also loads and un­loads fur­niture after busi­ness hours tak­ing pre­cious park­ing space from the loc­al [sic]…We live on a Res­id­en­tial Block and with the nearby Gir­ard Ave Busi­ness Dis­trict we feel strongly that this block should re­main res­id­en­tial.”

Twenty-eight in­di­vidu­als signed the pe­ti­tion.

In ref­er­ence to the com­plaint of chem­ic­als, Duffey told Star the strongest chem­ic­al the busi­ness uses is lem­on oil to clean wood fur­niture.

“We didn’t think any­body was go­ing to be show­ing up at the zon­ing hear­ing to con­test or protest be­cause we thought we had worked through the is­sues at the neigh­bor­hood as­so­ci­ation meet­ing,” Duffey pre­vi­ously told Star. “We didn’t know that we needed people to come speak on our be­half, and we couldn’t talk ourselves.”

“There were con­cerns we only heard about for the first time at the meet­ing. And we would have been happy to sit down with them and work through these is­sues,” she con­tin­ued.

“It wasn’t just two people,” Jen­nings said of op­pos­i­tion to the vari­ance. “Even if my par­ents voted against it, that has noth­ing to do with me.”

Re­port­er Sam Ne­w­house can be reached at sne­w­ or 215-354-3124.

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